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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLA2020 Election Updates

UCLA Voting Rights Project works to fight voter suppression in Texas, Pennsylvania

The UCLA Voting Rights Project helped oppose attempts to curb voter participation in Texas and Pennsylvania. (Ashley Kenney/Assistant Photo editor)

By Julia Shapero

Oct. 23, 2020 9:06 p.m.

A UCLA voting rights organization helped oppose attempts to curb voter participation in Texas and Pennsylvania, according to a university press release.

The UCLA Voting Rights Project, a project within the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative, assisted in two recent cases – Texas League of United Latin American Citizens v. Abbott and Trump v. Boockvar.

In Pennsylvania, the Trump v. Boockvar case resulted in a definitive ruling in favor of the Voting Rights Project and Boockvar. However, in Texas, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals placed a temporary stay on the verdict in Texas League of United Latin American Citizens v. Abbott, which previously ruled in favor of the Voting Rights Project.

The Texas League of United Latin American Citizens, partnered with the Voting Rights Project, filed a lawsuit against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Oct. 1 after Abbott ordered that each county only offer one in-person absentee ballot return center per county. A district judge struck down Abbott’s October order Oct. 9, according to the press release.

Marcel Roman, a senior policy fellow with the Voting Rights Project, said Abbott’s order would make it more difficult for people to vote, particularly for low-income communities and communities of color.

Roman examined the drop box locations before and after Abbott’s Oct. 1 order and found that the order would increase the distance voters would have to travel to submit their ballots in a ballot drop box.

“Traveling a longer distance to vote is going to make it a lot more difficult for people,” Roman said. “Since they have to travel a longer distance to the drop box, they may be discouraged from submitting their (ballot) in order for their vote to be counted.”

However, the state appealed the case and the U.S. Court of Appeals placed a stay on the district judge’s Oct. 9 order, allowing the state to continue to limit ballot drop boxes to one box per county.

In Pennsylvania, the Voting Rights Project also helped dismiss a court case that attempted to let poll watchers from different counties watch polling centers.

President Donald Trump’s campaign sued the Secretary of State and county boards of elections in Pennsylvania seeking to allow poll watchers to monitor polls in counties where they are not residents, according to the UCLA Voting Rights Project. Poll watchers observe the polls and watch for bias or interference, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Trump campaign’s lawsuit also tried to prevent counties from allowing voters to return their ballots through drop boxes.

The Voting Rights Project submitted an expert report in collaboration with a law firm that the court used in its opinion. A district court dismissed the case on Oct. 10.

The expert witness report described the impact of poll watchers and voter intimidation, as well as how drop boxes are safe, reliable and accessible, said Sonni Waknin, the managing legal fellow at the Voting Rights Project who helped research for the report.

Waknin said one of the main issues in the case was whether the Republican Party of Pennsylvania could recruit poll workers from out-of-county areas and bus them into different counties.

“Our concern was whether or not they were going to recruit from rural counties in Pennsylvania and bring them to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, places where there are high minority voter populations,” Waknin said.

Roman also worked on the Pennsylvania case, collecting existing evidence of voter fraud and how the presence of poll watchers might affect voting behavior among nonwhite, Latino and Black populations. He said he found that the poll watchers could discourage people from voting and reduce voter participation.

He added that fraud is almost nonexistent in the United States.

“It’s a nonissue,” he said. “It’s just heavily politicized and it’s discussed a lot, particularly among Republican lawmakers, such that it garners a lot of attention, but it’s a nonissue.”

The dismissal of the case means that poll watchers cannot come from out of the county and that the placing of absentee ballot drop boxes is permissible, Waknin said.

Waknin added that the Voting Rights Project hopes to improve voting rights and make sure voters have access to ballot boxes.

“I think that the decision among the courts in both cases is going to increase the representativeness of the election,” Roman said. “And it’s going to increase electoral participation, which is ultimately what we want.”

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Julia Shapero | Assistant News editor
Shapero is a senior staff News reporter. She was previously an assistant News editor in the National News & Higher Education beat. Shapero is a fourth-year political science student who enjoys covering national and statewide news.
Shapero is a senior staff News reporter. She was previously an assistant News editor in the National News & Higher Education beat. Shapero is a fourth-year political science student who enjoys covering national and statewide news.
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